Reengaging Participants

Laurie: What about the video here just finishing up Henry’s story, then the bullets after.

When Henry found the activity too difficult, his engagement was lost – shifting to his worry about something outside of the program – his wife at home. One way to re engage with Henry would have been for the artist-educator to connect with him individually. She could acknowledge where he is in the moment, and validate his worry. In this example, if he mentioned his wife aloud, the facilitator could refer to her, by saying something like this: “Henry, you speak so fondly of your wife. You’ll be able to take this home to her. Let’s do a bit of this together”. Then she could show him the steps one at a time, slowly while checking for understanding at each step and allowing him to complete each step before moving to the next. With his focus, in the moment, on his wife, it would be hard to shift his attention back, without acknowledging where he was, at that moment.

This thoughtful and validating attention would help him reconnect, just as we had seen in the past during conversations when his attention was sparked each time we called on him. 

When working with a group, a facilitator might find it hard to stop in the middle of a demonstration to attend to one person, but with a group of participants with dementia, it is a good idea to take steps one at a time, pausing to make sure everyone understands and is has completed that step before moving on. While participants work on their activity, the artist can connect individually with those who need extra support, before moving the whole group onto the next step together.

Alternatively, Henry’s daughter could offer him support about the activity as well.  Though ideally this would happen after the facilitator connects with him first, and as an additional layer of support rather than the only one.

When you notice that a participant has disengaged, either during your program or as part of your post-program reflection, your first step is to think through the pillars (environment, approach, activity) to determine where changes or support are needed. In Henry’s case the focus was the activity – instructions for how to complete the activity were either too complex or were delivered too quickly, without giving time to process and work. Think about the moment you first noticed the disconnect and what was happening at the time. Or if your experience was that many participants in the group did not fully engage, reflect on the session to try to pinpoint areas of challenge. For example:


  • Were there distractions in the room (sound, movement, other people, difficult lighting)?
  • Was the object hard to see?
  • Was the facilitator hard to hear?
  • Was the workspace too cluttered, or were tools hard to choose?
  • Was the experience of getting into the program stressful?


  • Did you use strategies to support expression and understanding?
  • Did you connect with each participant individually, and respond to their specific needs for support?
  • Did you allow time to process what was said, and enough time to take action?


  • Was the activity at the ‘just-right-challenge’ level?
  • Did you include lots of opportunities for participants to share their ideas?
  • Did the activity promote independence and creativity?
  • Did you allow for enough time and support for participants to feel successful?

These are just a few examples, each taken from the content of the modules. When you have trouble, review the modules to help keep the Artful Moments’ recommendations fresh. It may feel like a lot to remember – and it is – but with time, practice and sensitivity, you will find that noticing and adjusting to changing levels of engagement comes more naturally. When you reflect on your session, make notes about what worked well and where you felt connected to the group (not just on what went wrong). This, self-reflection will help your growth and comfort.